Explore the many moons of our Solar System. Find out what makes them special. Should we send humans to our Moon again?

60,480 enrolled on this course

  • Duration

    8 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

There are lots of moons in our Solar System. The Earth is the only planet with just a single moon. Some moons are bigger than ours; many are much smaller. There are even tiny moons orbiting some of the asteroids. Some have ongoing volcanic eruptions; others are dead, heavily cratered lumps. One has rivers and lakes of liquid methane. Our own Moon has resources that could help open the Solar System for future exploration. A small handful of moons have conditions below their surfaces where primitive life might exist.

Sign up to explore the rich diversity of moons, the fundamental processes that have shaped them, and the relationship between the Moon and the Earth. You will be under the guidance of experts from The Open University and elsewhere. The course is rich in high-quality text, images, video, audio and interactive elements.

All Open University Science MOOCs presented on FutureLearn are produced with the kind support of Dangoor Education.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds NARRATOR: This course introduces and celebrates the amazing diversity of moons in our Solar System, drawing on the unique teaching and research expertise of the Open University.

Skip to 0 minutes and 19 seconds JOHAN ZARNECKI: Every time I see Titan, I find it incredible to think that something we designed and built is sitting there on the surface. It’s there now. It will always be there.

Skip to 0 minutes and 30 seconds NARRATOR: With specially filmed contributions from moon experts from around the world.

Skip to 0 minutes and 35 seconds CHRISTIEN SHUPLA: When you get to the gas giants - the large, bloated planets that go around our Sun - they have immense amounts of gravity, and their wide orbits have enabled them to pick up many moons. Some of them probably formed in orbit around the planets. Others are captured asteroids and comets.

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 seconds MICHELE DOUGHERTY: This is the image that we took when went really close to Enceladus, and you can clearly see this large plume of water vapour coming off from the south pole. There are ice crystals, and there are organic compounds, the basic building blocks of life.

Skip to 1 minute and 6 seconds NARRATOR: Having examined a variety of very different moons, their origin, and their past and present activity, the course goes on to investigate the different ways that scientists study moons from highly sophisticated technology used on space probes to the incredible Apollo missions that sent 12 human beings to explore our own Moon.

Skip to 1 minute and 28 seconds SARAH NOBLE: I always remember coming home one night, I had been working late in the lab dealing with lunar samples, and I looked down and saw that my hands were sparkling in the moon light, and I realized that it was moon dust on my hands. And I looked up, and I thought, this dirt came from there.

Skip to 1 minute and 44 seconds NARRATOR: Accessible even if you’re new to the subject, the course includes special, interactive elements allowing you to study Moon rocks using a virtual microscope and even to challenge the computer to a game of Moon Trumps. Towards the end of the eight weeks, the course asks some of the big questions about the likelihood of any moons hosting habitable environments as well as exploring the remarkable discovery of water on our own Moon.

Skip to 2 minutes and 14 seconds PAUL SPUDIS: Finding water, it not only enables human life to have a foothold in space, it also permits you to create a space transportation system that’s reusable and extensible.

Skip to 2 minutes and 23 seconds NARRATOR: Finishing the course, will leave you with insights into the often dramatic processes that shape the moons of our Solar System and the ingenious ways that scientists can study them.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Develop an awareness of the nature and diversity of moons in our Solar System, and their significance.
  • Explain and understand the general nature of moons’ orbits and the effects of tides.
  • Describe some of the possible origins of moons.
  • Describe the compositions and nature of the surfaces and interiors of moons.
  • Calculate and understand how impact craters are formed and recognise their significance for dating surfaces.
  • Describe the nature and history of volcanic activity on several moons.
  • Assess and be aware of which moons may have subsurface oceans, and the implications for hosting native life.
  • Classify and become aware of the history of manned and unmanned lunar exploration, and of some of the major discoveries.
  • Identify and recognise aspects of lunar samples seen under the microscope.
  • Describe the different settings in which ‘water’ has been found on the Moon.
  • Describe and be aware of the history of discovery and exploration of moons, and of future prospects.
  • Reflect and suggest ways in which resources from the Moon may help future space exploration.

Who is the course for?

An interest in learning about the moons of our Solar System and the methods used to understand them. Prior knowledge of astronomy is not expected.

Who will you learn with?

Prof of Planetary Geosciences, Open Univ
Moons Educator
Moons (2015) OUP
Planet Mercury (2014) Springer
Planets (2010) OUP

Who developed the course?

The Open University

As the UK’s largest university, The Open University (OU) supports thousands of students to achieve their goals and ambitions via supported distance learning, helping to fit learning around professional and personal life commitments.

  • Established

  • Location

    Milton Keynes, UK
  • World ranking

    Top 510Source: Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020

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Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
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Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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